• Claims over 90 US lawmakers have signed letter meant for Secretary of State Blinken
• Shahbaz Gill meets congressmen alongside delegates, calls for ensuring rights of all political workers
• Claims ‘cipher controversy’ does not define PTI’s policies towards Washington

WASHINGTON: More than 90 US lawmakers have signed a letter urging US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to use all diplomatic channels to promote democracy in Pakistan.

The Pakistani-American Political Action Committee, better known as Pak PAC USA, says that it’s reaching out to more than 100 lawmakers to sign the letter.

In the US, the term PAC refers to an organisation that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation.

The committee, which promotes Pakistan’s interests in the US Congress, says that it’s only trying to strengthen democracy in Pakistan and does not support or oppose any political party or group.

But a PTI leader, Shahbaz Gill, did address PAC’s annual dinner on Tuesday night, soliciting support for those striving to maintain constitutional democracy in Pakistan.

Mr Gill also visited some US lawmakers with the PAC team and explained to them the current political situation in Pakistan. Some PAC members, including a past president, however, objected to his inclusion in the team.

The letter, which will be sent to Secretary Blinken on April 28, was jointly initiated by a Democrat and a Republican, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, respectively.

They said they were writing to express concerns about the current situation in Pakistan and to urge Secretary Blinken to “use all diplomatic tools at your disposal to pressure the government of Pakistan towards a greater commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

They also demanded a “commitment to investigate any infringement upon freedom of speech and freedom of assembly” in Pakistan.

The lawmakers said that over the past several months, they had become increasingly concerned by the blanket bans on demonstrations, and deaths of several prominent critics of the government.

“We ask for your help in pressuring the government of Pakistan to ensure protestors can assert their demands in a peaceful and non-violent way, free from harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary detention,” they wrote.

As both Democrats and Republicans who care about the bilateral relationship, “we are concerned that violence and increased political tension could spiral into a deteriorating security situation in Pakistan,” they warned.

As supporters of a strong bilateral US -Pakistan relationship, “we urge you to use all diplomatic tools — including calls, visits, and public statements — to demonstrate US interest and prevent the erosion of democratic institutions in Pakistan,” they wrote.

“Supporting democracy in Pakistan is in the national interest of the United States,” they added.

The lawmakers reminded Mr. Blinken that “in this critical moment, US diplomatic leadership is necessary to prevent further erosion of democratic protections.”

At a separate gathering of PTI supporters, Mr. Gill urged politicians in Pakistan to rise above party loyalties to ensure that basic rights of all political workers are respected.

“In Pakistan, every group has its own victim. Victims of other groups are not even recognized,” he said at a PTI reception in Virginia on Monday night. “This is wrong. A victim is a victim. We should rise above party loyalties to support him or her.”

Mr. Gill was arrested last year on charges of sedition for allegedly inciting mutiny, a charge he vehemently denies. PTI claimed that he was sexually assaulted in custody, although he later told a court that he was not. Mr. Gill, however, insists that he was subjected to torture by investigators.

Later at a news briefing, Mr. Gill said that the diplomatic cipher controversy does not define PTI’s policies towards the United States.

“We are not against America or any other country,” he said. “If we return to power, we will seek close friendly relations with all allies, including the United States.”

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2023

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